This week in Brighton and Hove is always very memorable for a range of reasons, one of which is the beginning of a new academic year at both of our Universities. The same is true in other parts of Sussex particularly in the Coastal Towns and City but Brighton and Hove has a much more substantial impact from the two institutions that are based here than other localities. In addition to Fresher’s Week which for the Universities of Brighton and Sussex starts today, this week is also very significant in our location in terms of the impact that party political conferences have. As recent as 3-4 weeks ago there were real questions being raised about if the Labour Party conference would actually take place due to the potential for the prorogation to be resisted and some other form of Parliamentary activity taking place this week. I recall extremely clearly what happened in Brighton and Hove 41 years ago which involved both of those themes although the timing was slightly different.
In September 1978 I arrived in Brighton to begin my course at what was then Brighton Polytechnic. The town was less developed and a less well-off location in economic terms than it is today but I met some really interesting and inspiring people and amongst other things my first term involved a fire in the Cockroft building on Lewes Road and a sit-in in Mithras House in an attempt to make courses for overseas students more accessible to them, at a comparable cost to our own course arrangements. A great deal has changed since then and of course all students now pay a much more similar sum for their courses than they did in those days, but those costs are very different to the costs we faced 41 years ago. Along with the sit-in at Mithras House there were a number of sit-ins at Sussex House over in Falmer at Sussex University as it was referred to in those days. However along with the start of an academic year for me and many other people in our city 41 years ago, the Brighton Centre was also a venue for a party political conference that also occurred that year. This was at a very different time in the political phase from today and I was recruited as a volunteer to help with the Polytechnic student newspaper and sent down to the Centre to take a photograph of the leader of the opposition who walked into the Centre each morning from the Grand Hotel without any of the protection that has emerged in the many subsequent years.
The arrival at that conference for the leader of the opposition which I photographed for Joint News proved to be the stepping point for their party at the next General Election which took place in May 1979 and Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party was able to take over Downing Street from James Callaghan. We are unlikely to have to wait until May 2020 to have the next General Election although if one was considering the cost of General Elections as an important element, then to hold the next one in May would make a great deal more sense than to do so beforehand. The current leader of the Labour Party will walk into the Brighton Centre this week albeit with some protection and his approach to Brexit will feature as one of the main themes in the national press and media. Of course Jeremy who first became an MP four years after Thatcher became Prime Minister will be 71 next May which I think would make him the oldest ever Prime Minister if he wins the election. On the other hand Margaret was 54 when she became Prime Minister which is the same age as Boris Johnson is now and so age clearly does not in itself act as the basis for the credibility of such issues. However the last four decades have seen enormous changes to our political world, just as Higher Education and the culture here in Brighton and Hove have also changed dramatically over the same period. Of course the changes in all these three settings include some positive as well as some negative aspects.
While we wait for the Supreme Court to declare if the prorogation was legitimate and for Labour and other parties to explain their plans, it is reasonable to hope that over the next year or two or even longer that we will see some good outcomes. Our city must find ways of making decent housing more accessible for local people and our nation needs to find new ways of establishing effective coalitions and as our two Universities finish off their developments, we need student tuition fees to be changed to improve access to future generations.